Nav: Home

First discovered fossil feather did not belong to iconic bird Archaeopteryx

February 04, 2019

A 150-year-old fossil feather mystery has been solved by an international research team including Dr Michael Pittman from the Department of Earth Sciences, The University of Hong Kong. Dr Pittman and his colleagues applied a novel imaging technique, Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence (LSF), revealing the missing quill of the first fossil feather ever discovered, dethroning an icon in the process.

This fossil feather was found in the Solnhofen area of southern Germany in 1861. The isolated feather was used to name the iconic fossil bird Archaeopteryx and was closely identified with its skeletons. Unlike the feather impressions preserved in some Archaeopteryx fossils, the isolated feather is preserved as a dark film. The detailed 1862 description of the feather mentions a rather long quill visible on the fossil, but this is unseen today. Even recent x-ray fluorescence and UV imaging studies did not end the debate of the "missing quill". The original existence of this quill has therefore been debated and it was unclear if the single feather represented a primary, secondary, or primary covert feather.

The results of this study are described in the journal Scientific Reports, and underscore the potential and scientific importance of Laser-Stimulated Fluorescence, which is being developed by Thomas G Kaye of the Foundation for Scientific Advancement, USA and Dr Pittman. "My imaging work with Tom Kaye demonstrates that important discoveries remain to be made even in the most iconic and well-studied fossils," says Dr Pittman.

With the help of the LSF images, the team finally solved the 150-year-old missing quill mystery. The now completely visible feather allowed detailed comparisons with the feather impressions of Archaeopteryx and with living birds. Before this LSF work, the feather was thought to represent a primary covert from Archaeopteryx, but this study shows that it differs from coverts of modern birds by lacking a distinct s-shaped centerline. The team also ruled out that the feather represented a primary, secondary, or tail feather of Archaeopteryx. Instead, the new data indicates that the isolated feather came from an unknown feathered dinosaur and that its attribution to Archaeopteryx was wrong. "It is amazing that this new technique allows us to resolve the 150-year-old mystery of the missing quill," says Daniela Schwarz, co-author in the study and curator for the fossil reptiles and bird collection of the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin. This discovery also demonstrates that the diversity of feathered dinosaurs was likely higher around the ancient Solnhofen Archipelago than previously thought. "The success of the LSF technique here is sure to lead to more discoveries and applications in other fields. But, you'll have to wait and see what we find next!'' added Tom Kaye, the study's lead author.
-end-
The paper: 'Detection of lost calamus challenges identity of isolated Archaeopteryx feather' by Kaye, M Pittman, G Mayr, D Schwarz and X Xu in Scientific Reports.

Link to journal article: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-37343-7

The University of Hong Kong

Related Fossil Articles:

Tracking fossil fuel emissions with carbon-14
Researchers from NOAA and the University of Colorado have devised a breakthrough method for estimating national emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels using ambient air samples and a well-known isotope of carbon that scientists have relied on for decades to date archaeological sites.
Rare lizard fossil preserved in amber
The tiny forefoot of a lizard of the genus Anolis was trapped in amber about 15 to 20 million years ago.
Reconstructing the diet of fossil vertebrates
Paleodietary studies of the fossil record are impeded by a lack of reliable and unequivocal tracers.
Fossil is the oldest-known scorpion
Scientists studying fossils collected 35 years ago have identified them as the oldest-known scorpion species, a prehistoric animal from about 437 million years ago.
Fossil fish gives new insights into the evolution
An international research team led by Giuseppe Marramà from the Institute of Paleontology of the University of Vienna discovered a new and well-preserved fossil stingray with an exceptional anatomy, which greatly differs from living species.
What color were fossil animals?
Dr. Michael Pittman of the Vertebrate Palaeontology Laboratory, Department of Earth Sciences, The University of Hong Kong led an international study with his PhD student Mr.
New Cretaceous fossil sheds light on avian reproduction
A team of scientists led by Alida Bailleul and Jingmai O'Connor from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences reported the first fossil bird ever found with an egg preserved inside its body.
Fossil deposit is much richer than expected
Near the Dutch town of Winterswijk is an Eldorado for fossil lovers.
Researchers add surprising finds to the fossil record
A newly discovered fossil suggests that large, flowering trees grew in North America by the Turonian age, showing that these large trees were part of the forest canopies there nearly 15 million years earlier than previously thought.
Chinese Cretaceous fossil highlights avian evolution
A newly identified extinct bird species from a 127-million-year-old fossil deposit in northeastern China provides new information about avian development during the early evolution of flight.
More Fossil News and Fossil Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Making Amends
What makes a true apology? What does it mean to make amends for past mistakes? This hour, TED speakers explore how repairing the wrongs of the past is the first step toward healing for the future. Guests include historian and preservationist Brent Leggs, law professor Martha Minow, librarian Dawn Wacek, and playwright V (formerly Eve Ensler).
Now Playing: Science for the People

#566 Is Your Gut Leaking?
This week we're busting the human gut wide open with Dr. Alessio Fasano from the Center for Celiac Research and Treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital. Join host Anika Hazra for our discussion separating fact from fiction on the controversial topic of leaky gut syndrome. We cover everything from what causes a leaky gut to interpreting the results of a gut microbiome test! Related links: Center for Celiac Research and Treatment website and their YouTube channel
Now Playing: Radiolab

The Flag and the Fury
How do you actually make change in the world? For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag, and they were the last state in the nation where that emblem remained "officially" flying.  A few days ago, that flag came down. A few days before that, it coming down would have seemed impossible. We dive into the story behind this de-flagging: a journey involving a clash of histories, designs, families, and even cheerleading. This show is a collaboration with OSM Audio. Kiese Laymon's memoir Heavy is here. And the Hospitality Flag webpage is here.